Google Image Search can be a HUGE source of impressions and valuable source of inbound traffic… if you know where to look and how to optimize for Image Search.

You’re probably familiar with Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools), and you’ve likely obsessed over your clicks and impressions data for your queries and pages.

But I bet you’ve never clicked on the “search type” option and looked at the Image search.

This option defaults to “Web” which is what most people think of regarding their website performing in the index. But for many sites, your *images* can also be a huge source of inbound traffic. In the case of the client below, images have 5x the impressions as the pages. While our CTR is currently on the low side, one of our identified challenges now is to improve the position and CTR for our images in this SERP.

In February, in a small move that didn’t get much attention, Google changed a tiny aspect of their Image Search UX. Before, when you searched for an image, you were presented with a button that allowed you to “view image” directly, often in high resolution, meaning you never needed to go to the hosting website.

That has changed.

They have removed that “view image” option, leaving only the “visit” option as the way to get the full-size image (from the original website).

For many visual businesses, for example our client Boston Rare Maps (pictured below), this has resulted in a significant increase in visitors (and business inquiries as we can capitalize on their interest!)

Often people slack off when it comes to adding the meta data for their images, or hesitate to add a “media sitemap” to their site. Don’t. Spend more time search engine optimizing your images, as it can definitely have an impact.

Changing referral data and display in Analytics

Coming in the next few weeks Google is going to be rolling out changes to their Image Search, specifically relating to empowering Webmasters to understand when traffic is coming to a website from Image Search rather than Organic Search. Currently all “search” traffic from Google gets lumped into one big basket of “Organic Search”, but now Google is going to separate out Image traffic from other organic traffic.

“For webmasters, it hasn’t always been easy to understand the role Google Images plays in driving site traffic. To address this, we will roll out a new referrer URL specific to Google Images over the next few months. The referrer URL is part of the HTTP header, and indicates the last page the user was on and clicked to visit the destination webpage.”

Note: this never happened.

Update: After testing and further consideration, we have determined that the best place to measure query and click traffic from Google Images is in the Search Console Performance Report. Accordingly, we will continue to use (or the appropriate ccTLD) as the referrer URL for all traffic from Google Images, and will not be providing a Google Images specific referrer URL (

The question is “Why”

It is my belief that, within certain markets, Images drive search success more than any other factor.

Looking for jewelry? Image search. Antique maps? Image search. Clothing… you get the idea. While I haven’t yet seen research reports from Google on this topic, I think it’s fair to believe that they’re looking at research reports that show high success rate (and remember, Google aims to please) between Image Searches leading directly to purchases and visitor success.

So what can you do to help this along?

In my opinion, a few things will help:

  • Original images as opposed to stock photography (non-original images are “duplicate content”)
  • Making sure you have quality file names of your images with the major key terms in the name
  • Provide the image if you can in multiple sizes (many searchers like to look for higher resolution images)
  • Make sure to give the images quality meta data like title, descriptions, alt-text, etc.
  • Check the Exif data on the image and optimize as necessary 
  • Add captions to your images if the surrounding content isn’t enough description
  • Make sure your site produces an XML image sitemap
The time for auditing the SEO of your website’s images is now.

In the words of Bill Slawski, “Can images become more semantic? Perhaps the selection of images to show in a set of image search results can be, as identified by the image search labels that are associated with them. In these days of Knowledge Graphs and entities, we are seeing Google search moving toward using information about entities to power search, and this is true with image search as well as text.

Remember, Semantic Search Strategy focuses on Human Needs and User Intent

November 15, 2019 Update: The Problem with Image Search Traffic

In the words of AJ Kohn: “Google makes it easy for marketers to make bad decisions by hiding the performance of image search traffic. Marketers have grown accustomed to not seeing image search traffic broken out in analytics packages. And Google persists in telling marketers to use Google Search Console to track image search traffic. The problem? Google Search Console doesn’t tell marketers how image search traffic performs. Here’s why Google’s decision to hide image search traffic performance is hurting websites.